Employee Engagement – The Heart of Corporate Health

Employee Engagement – The Heart of Corporate Health


What is it that keeps employees engaged and committed to working in and contributing to the growth and strength of an organization?  While we all want the obvious job enticements, such as a pleasant environment, good salary, benefits, and challenging work, most of us are driven by something deeper— a sense of purpose, of making a difference. “When people understand the impact of their efforts, it makes the work much more meaningful and it keeps people engaged,” writes Ben Travis, describing eight influential employee engagement trends for 2019.  Travis, the marketing manager of  Bonusly (https://bonus.ly) an organization founded in in 2012 to help companies foster supportive environments and shared purpose, described employee engagement as “one of the most important differentiators for organizations in 2019, and it’s an issue that nearly every organizational leader has thought about recently.” The goal is to create a culture where employees develop an emotional commitment to their role, their organization, and the people impacted by their work resulting in strong employee retention and productivity.  

Now for the bad news. “Nonprofits trail nearly every other sector in (employee) engagement,” reports Sean Norris in his blog at NonProfit PRO. We come in third behind healthcare and public administration, according to a 2011 survey of non-profit organizations, such as American Cancer Society, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and others, conducted by Opportunity Knocks.  Employees who work in human service nonprofits are often paid less than the private marketplace and deal with clients who are in difficult situations.  They suffer burnout or disengagement and, ultimately, they have higher rates of turnover.

So what can we do about this?  Lindsay Crossland in a 2018 article entitled Five Ways Nonprofits Can Increase Employee Engagement published in Forbes Nonprofit Council suggests that one of the most effective ways is to make individuals more aware of how important they are.  “Show the database manager how she’s helping shelter people at night. Help the accounting clerk realize how he’s making it possible for disadvantaged children to go to college.  Make sure that the receptionist hears the stories of people whose lives are changed because of the work we do.  Without the full workforce behind the cause, there would be no staff to administer programs and no money to fund the opportunities.”

Getting our staff engaged is not simply about employee satisfaction. True employee engagement rarely just happens. It takes a group of dedicated leaders to ensure the engagement of staff.   It takes over the top communication–making sure that the employees are informed and excited about our mission.   As Crossland points out, “If you can get the people behind the scenes as engaged in sharing your story as your fundraising team, think about the possibilities that would create not only for brand awareness, but job satisfaction.”

In her social impact blog, Suzanne Smith claims that “one of the biggest drivers of recruitment to the social sector is passion for the work, but the biggest driver of retention is enjoyment. Employees want to know what they do makes a difference to your clients and communities.  They need to feel a sense of purpose.”

As Ben Travis points out, “Employee recognition is the open acknowledgement and expressed appreciation for an employee’s contributions to their organization, and it’s one of the fastest-growing trends related to employee engagement.”

New York City Moves to Ban Jails on Rikers Island

A key committee of the New York City Council approved a resolution that would prohibit the incarceration of individuals on the island after 2026. The island currently is home to a jail complex that houses most of the approximately 7,100 inmates in the city.

Leveraging Technology To Enhance Your Connection with Staff

Leveraging Technology To Enhance Your Connection with Staff


In The World is Flat, written by economist and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman more than a decade ago, he describes how the world has become flat now that instantaneous communication around the globe is possible. I think we would all agree.

Meetings were once held in board rooms with blackboards and coffee and Danish. And while we still have meetings in actual rooms with people around us, most meetings are now virtual. Videoconferencing is efficient and inexpensive, which makes it possible for us to hear and see colleagues anywhere in the world. We share documents in the cloud, basecamp, dropbox and more. We communicate across the globe with ease.

There’s no end to the changes we’ll see either since technology continues to rapidly evolve. While technology has fundamentally changed how we communicate, technology sometimes moves faster than our ability to adapt. Business consultant Mila Jones in her March 2019 blog readwrite discussed how enhanced technology has changed the nature of business and warns that “What AI already knows isn’t something that universities can predict, as such they can’t make sure that its graduates have all the skills and knowledge necessary. Instead, you’ll need to create your own training programs.” This is good advice.

At The Fedcap Group we work hard to ensure that staff are increasingly skilled in “all things tech”. Technology is foundational to our regular “what’s next” planning sessions. Technology is the backbone of our management of our financial, physical plant and human resources. Yet as we adapt and integrate the latest technology, we work hard to remember that we are not robots, and that no matter how sophisticated the technology, we are still all part of the human family. Because we are an international company, we use Zoom, Skype, Teams and other platforms to stay connected and at the same time, we hold what we call “Corporate Weeks” twice annually where leaders from across our growing footprint come together to share ideas and connect at a personal level.
Both strategies are important.

German blogger Monique Zander offers some tips for optimizing business communication in her blog 99designs. Among others, she suggests finding a way to use technology to our real advantage; use secure cloud storage solutions to make it easy to share data and documents with colleagues all over the world, pay attention to all the modern communication solutions that are arriving on the market now (including tailored apps for employee training), new and improved project management software, smart document management solutions, increasingly sophisticated chat rooms that encourage innovation and idea sharing, interactive dashboards that allow staff to engage in performance data…and so many more.

Technology, like so many things in life, provides significant opportunities and risks. Our jobs as leaders is to stay connected to our people—technology offers remarkable vehicles for doing just that.

Structure in Service to Innovation

Structure in Service to Innovation

A Google search of “the importance of innovation” will turn up more than one hundred million hits related to business.

“While centralized authority was the driving force of business in the 20th Century, brainstorming, innovation and lower level decision making characterize emerging companies of the new century,” writes Alex Cooper, in “Innovative Organizational Structure” at SmallBusiness.com. He points out that organizational structure must be intentionally designed to generate innovation from teams and individuals. Mike Sicard, CEO of USI emphasizes the importance of structure serving as a vehicle to advance strategy. He emphasizes that a good structure accelerates what you are trying to accomplish as opposed to serving as a barrier.

Kristi Hedges, contributor to Women at Forbes.com tells of a leader who “kept a plaque on his wall of everyone who had tried and failed—spectacularly—in the pursuit of an audacious goal.” Every executive saw the names when he or she interviewed for the job, and each time they came into the leader’s office. The tone was clear: we value risk taking and reward it as we seek to innovate.

It’s widely known that innovative companies are more creative, collaborative and productive. We also know that innovative companies achieve sustainable growth, renewed competitive advantages and ongoing customer relevance. In other words, they make a more substantive impact. The challenge to leaders is structuring the organization to tap these traits within staff.

The structure of The Fedcap Group has been intentionally designed to advance innovation resulting in sustainability, relevance and impact. In 25, 50, 100 years from now, we expect to be continuing to provide smart interventions that make a lasting difference in people’s lives.

      • We have developed four major areas of practice: Workforce Development, Education, occupational Health and Economic Development—each led by experts allowing us to influence state and federal policy and program design.
      • We have developed a growing body of expertise and accompanying evidence-based interventions in improving the outcomes for specific populations including the justice involved, children ages 0-6, youth transitioning from foster care, adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities and individuals on public assistance. This allows us to focus our efforts on building effective program interventions that meet specific needs.
      • We have combined with a growing number of top-tier mission-driven organizations. These companies engage the practice area and population expertise to design new programs and expand services, impact and diversify revenue streams.
      • We have built an array of corporate services with state-of-the-art technology in the areas of Finance, HR, IT and Facilities with the capacity to support companies in their growth and impact efforts.

And to ensure we effectively leverage this structure to design models of service that can create lasting impact, we have implemented a “Cube” approach to program innovation and business development supported by a robust technological platform. The platform manages information related to each opportunity from lead through cash in the door and creates consistency in business development processes.

With this Cube approach, practice leaders, company executives, population experts and corporate services staff come together to create responses to requests for proposals from government funders, to design models of intervention to test with foundations and to prepare bids for managed care organizations. Each piece of the cube works synergistically to accomplish the goal—a winning proposal/bid.

Through the cube we are building a culture where everyone is responsible for innovation and everyone is responsible to help design an approach that has the potential to fundamentally improve outcomes for individuals we serve.

I welcome your thoughts.

Combining Forces to Advance Our Mission

Combining Forces to Advance Our Mission


Some years back, Chicago’s Boys Club and Girls Club combined their resources to form the Chicago Boys and Girls Club by working together as a way to better provide for the city’s young people. In an article “Nonprofit Mergers that Work” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Donald Haider, director of the Center for Nonprofit Management at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, described how organizations devoted to literacy merged in Chicago to benefit more public school children. These are a few examples of the many combinations in the nonprofit sector occurring across the country.

“In recent years, there has been an increase in mergers, asset transfers, and affiliations involving nonprofit organizations,” Willard L. Boyd III wrote in a publication of the American Bar Association. These “business combinations” have been necessary in an environment that has become more challenging for nonprofits to obtain financial support in the form of public and private funding and contributions.” Boyd pointed out that the considerations to be taken before such a step are similar to those of profit-making mergers, “including synergies, cost savings and other efficiencies to be obtained through the combination, work force issues and board composition.”

Haider’s article points out how the same principle, to combine and streamline operations, can provide better outcomes for clients. While many nonprofits have worked together informally, there are important differences to be addressed when considering a permanent combination.

The Fedcap Group is a parent company of 19 companies. In 2010, as part of our Strategic Plan, we made the decision to grow through the organic expansion of existing services and through combinations with other mission driven nonprofits. The Fedcap Group offers a growth platform for its companies to expand within our four major areas of practice: Education, Occupational Health, Economic Development and Workforce Development.

Through our nearly decade of experience in mergers and acquisitions, we have learned that there are many considerations when considering a combination—here are just a few to explore:

      • Are the missions of the two entities closely aligned?
      • Does the combination advance the goals of each entity?
      • How well will the cultures of the companies integrate?
      • When combined, do the programs of each company amply the work of the other?
      • Is there talent to be leveraged across the combined entities? If so, how
      • Will combining corporate services (IT, Finance, HR) result in better efficiency and cost savings across the combined entities?
      • What are the facility/long term lease considerations?
      • Will there be staff layoffs? Because there is a legitimate condition called “merger fear”, leaders must consider if there will be staff cuts and, if so, how this will be addressed.

Brand Management is also of significant importance in the combination process. At The Fedcap Group we are committed to increasing the brand profile of every company with which we combine. By working collectively to raise the profile of each company of The Fedcap Group, we believe we enhance the sustainability, relevance and impact of each company.

Combining organizations with aligned missions advances the goals of each organization. At the Fedcap Group we really do believe we are better together.

LEADING IN A TIME OF UPHEAVAL: The Importance of Upholding Core Values

LEADING IN A TIME OF UPHEAVAL: The Importance of Upholding Core Values


TWEET THIS! Bob Zukis advised in his Forbes blog on leadership strategy a few months ago: “We’re at the early stages of the industrial revolutions’ fourth transition period, the Fourth Resurgence.” Zukis, the CEO of Digital Directors Network and professor at the USC Marshall School of Business, wrote, “Each of its preceding three stages have created drastic changes in business that have also manifested throughout society.”

While the advance of technology has given us new tools with which to work, global warming, shifts in government priorities, displacement of large populations and the rise of populism is creating upheaval. Whether public, non-profit or corporate, today’s leaders must have a combination of skills to cope with an unpredictable future.

“The unexpected is becoming the norm,” claimed Margaret Heffernan, PhD, author, TV producer and business executive, in a recent TED Talk addressing the changing times. She said that today “we can predict our future only 400 days out because systems change so fast.” This has turned strategic planning on its heels.   “We now need a “just in case” planning, which means we will need to spend more time focusing on the future, ensuring we have the solution for whatever may develop. “We need more options—whether we will use them or not.” As an example, she discussed how scientists are developing medications for diseases that may not occur, but if they do, we are prepared. 

In our 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, The Fedcap Group highlighted the importance of this kind of thinking.  The slide below depicts our approach to planning and emphasizes the need for continuous innovation:

We need to lead by understanding the forces at work and find ways to align them with our mission—all the while seeking to benefit the many, not the few and delivering short term action and long-term value. 

All of this work must be accomplished within the context of human values. 

Because of the nature of rapid change, it is all the more important we remain closely attune with our employees, our consumers, our supply chain and our donors. Rapid change can create tension and uncertainty. It can drive divisions. It is up to leaders to navigate these uncharted waters with transparency—and a willingness to embrace market uncertainty with a calm conviction that “we are as prepared as we can be.”
And in fact, we need to be prepared.



From Risk Management to Risk Leadership

From Risk Management to Risk Leadership

09-09-19 - Risk Leadership

Almost daily we hear of new cyber security lapses, which are increasingly dangerous in our digital age and may affect all aspects of our operations from finances to employee records.  For this reason, it is imperative “to embrace risk leadership rather than just risk management,” said David O. Renz, in an article in Nonprofit Quarterly. Renz is the director of the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership at the Department of Public Affairs in the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

At an Institute of Risk Management (IRM) seminar this past June, various experts met to discuss just how “the role of the Chief Information Security Officer is evolving.” According to IRM, “risk management involves understanding, analyzing, and addressing risk to make sure organizations achieve their objectives.  It must be proportionate to the complexity and type of organization involved.”  They also point out that “risk is inherent in everything we do,” so the type of roles undertaken by risk professionals are incredibly diverse. They include insurance, business continuity, health and safety, corporate governance, engineering, planning and financial services.”  In other words, all aspects of our operations.

At The Fedcap Group we schedule regular, in-depth discussions about risk working to fully understand the nature and make up of our organizations’ risk profile.  Every discussion is intended to raise awareness and sensitivity to the potential risks in all areas of operations.  We have even devoted an entire module or our Leadership Academy to the concept of Risk Management with board members serving as guest faculty.

Our staff is the first line of defense, so risk awareness training means that with their daily dilligence, they are helping to protect the entire operation.  Our mantra has become “If you see something, do something or say something!”  Just as every person within the organization is a leader—every person plays a pivotal role in understanding and managing risk. 

MITRE CORP has developed a detailed risk management plan of “21 Musts” including a management culture that must encourage and reward identifying risk by staff at all levels of program contribution that I found very helpful.  (See link below).  In it the authors stress, and I agree, that risk considerations must be a central focus of program reviews, risk management must never be outsourced, and technology maturity and its future readiness must be understood.

As pointed out by David Renz, “delay or failure in responding to risk, positions an organization for an even riskier course.”


Innovation is a By-Product of Organizational Structure

Innovation is a By-Product of Organizational Structure

Innovation is no longer relegated to high-tech firms and leading-edge entrepreneurs. Innovation is a critical and foundational aspect of the culture of a relevant non-profit.  If we intend to create long-term impact, innovation must be at the forefront of our work.

For many, innovation seems like a shiny beacon of brilliance that is only within reach of the brightest entrepreneurs. But this is not true. Innovation is a mindset. And, innovation can be scaled to be incorporated into the everyday life of every one of our staff and those we serve. Good ideas come from everywhere.

Research tells us that most leaders of nonprofits believe that to advance their missions, they must imagine and create new approaches to solving vexing social challenges.  In a recent survey conducted by the Bridgespan group 80% of nonprofit executives say that they know they must innovate or perish—and yet only 40% say they are organized to do so.

Sanford’s Social Innovation Review identifies six elements common to nonprofits with a high capacity to innovate:

      • Catalytic leadership that empowers staff to solve problems that matter;
      • A curious culture, where staff look beyond their day-to-day obligations, question assumptions, and constructively challenge each other’s thinking as well as the status quo;
      • Diverse teams with different backgrounds, experiences, attitudes, and capabilities—the feedstock for growing an organization’s capacity to generate breakthrough ideas;
      • Porous boundaries that let information and insights flow into the organization from outside voices (including beneficiaries) and across the organization itself;
      • Idea pathways that provide structure and processes for identifying, testing, and transforming promising concepts into needle-moving solutions; and
      • The ready resources—funding, time, training, and tools—vital to supporting innovation work

I think that these elements are right on, and I have sought to develop them within our organization. 

At the Fedcap Group we talk about the Operationalizing the Cube—a structural concept that engages our practice leaders, our company leaders, our corporate services and our regional leaders in business development including proposal writing, developing pitches, foundation outreach, etc.  Operationalizing the Cube is anchored in our Salesforce technology.   When these diverse teams of people come together—it is quite remarkable what can happen.

I also love the concept of Idea Pathways.  We developed something we call the Innovation Garage– as a structure to identify, test and transform good ideas into the kinds of solutions that make a lasting impact. 

Porous Boundaries also makes tremendous sense to me.  Early on in my tenure at the Fedcap Group, a board member suggested the idea of a convening that engages business, academia, government and the non profit sector to address issues of our time.  These convenings—now called Solution Series – are held twice annually and bring our leaders and staff together with a group of thought leaders.  We all walk away from these conversations enlightened and inspired. In fact our next Solution Series on October 16th is devoted to the topic Organizational Structure:  A Tool to Advance Innovation and Business Bottom Line.  I hope you can join us!

It is not easy to create an organizational structure that invites innovation—but at The Fedcap Group we have learned that the effort pays tremendous dividends.

How does your structure support innovation?  I would love to hear from you.

The Imperative of Human Resource Business Partners Who Understand Soft Skills

The Imperative of Human Resource Business Partners Who Understand Soft Skills


During most of the 20th century employees were hired by the Personnel Department, where they were screened, had their skills tested and their paper work processed. That department has since evolved to Human Resources and when they screen for skills, they are more often including “soft skills”—critical thinking, creativity, communication, conflict resolution, empathy, ability to problem solve and emotional intelligence–capabilities needed to contribute to the organization’s overall corporate culture and goals.  In fact, research from Harvard University shows that 85% of job success comes from soft skills and only 15% from technical skills. 

In what he terms the Human Resources Reset in an article at  www.forbes.com, Edward E. Lawler III, a distinguished professor of business at the University of Southern California Marshall School of business, writes “There is a great need for the emergence of talented HR professionals who understand complex business strategy and are able to use data about people to impact and advance organizational effectiveness.”    At a time when there is such stiff competition for talent, business leaders do not want to make a mistake in hiring.  It costs too much and takes too much time to undo the impact of a bad hire.  As such, companies worldwide are increasingly looking through the lens of soft skills when hiring or promoting for key positions. For instance, Johnson and Johnson found that in divisions around the world, those identified at mid-career as having high leadership potential were far stronger in soft skill competencies than were their less-promising peers.

This makes sense to me.  Every day I see how “soft skills” increase overall performance.  I see how individuals with high Emotional Intelligence form stronger, more productive teams, how individuals who can think critically and who are creative, are more successful in business development, and how individuals who can problem solve and resolve conflict are highly effective at managing risk. I also see the generative nature of teams of individuals with high levels of emotional intelligence.

But how do we get there?  At The Fedcap Group we are rethinking the role of HR and incrementally building a human resource department that strategically develops and refines its plans for recruitment, training, and compensation based on the long-term business goals of the organization.  We are working hard to build human resource management teams that function as integral business partners, helping each of our company leaders understand their talent needs and recruit and retain employees who possess the right combination of soft skills and technical skills.  We are looking for HR professionals who drive talent needs—not simply fill position requests.

This is not a small undertaking. 

We look for HR professionals who understand the relationship between talent and the accomplishment of organizational goals. We look for HR professionals who understand how to assess for soft skills and can teach others to do the same.  We look for HR professionals who understand the dynamics of the teams they are hiring for, who look for gaps and find talent to fill those gaps. 

Our Human Resource Department is increasingly central to our strategic planning and our short and long-term business success.